There's no rain in the forecast, so if your team is out of the March Madness, Lanny Kaufer's spring herb walk is a good excuse to get some exercise and learn things too. The walk will be held Saturday in Santa Ana Canyon near Lake Casitas. Starting time is high noon.
Kaufer, a teacher and herbalist, has been leading these walks all around the Ojai Valley for the 25 years. Another walk is scheduled for April 21 and, for the more adventurous, Kaufer will lead a five-mile hike in Matilija Canyon on May 21. Walkers should wear comfy shoes, a hat and sunscreen.
The mission of an herb walk is fairly self-explanatory, according to Kaufer.
"This one's three hours, but we don't go very far, probably about a total of a mile," he said. "There's a lot of stopping and looking at the plants, talking about the plants and answering people's questions. There are hundreds of herbs in this area. You can't see them all on a three-hour walk, but there will probably be 20 different ones that I'll actually talk about. We'll see more, but I can't possibly talk about them all or else this would be a 10-foot herb walk."
Walkers will be introduced to several native species, such as the Matilija poppy monkey flowers and the California fuchsia--both perfect for drought-resistant landscapes. Kaufer will also identify poisonous plants such as castor bean, whose inclusion in a salad would be a bad move. But the main focus will be the native herbs that have been used for centuries by the Chumash. Many of these common plants are edible or have medicinal value.
"They'll see yerba santa, which means holy herb, as well as different kinds of sage, like purple sage, black sage, white sage," Kaufer said. "People would probably know sage from cooking, like seasoning turkey stuffing. But people might not know that you could make a throat gargle and mouthwash that tastes about the same as Listerine. Another one that is practical is the bay leaf. We have a bay laurel tree that's native around here. It's not the same species as the one you put in spaghetti, but the flavor is similar and a lot of people prefer it. That's something you can gather literally on the side of the road, then dry them and use them."
Kaufer will discuss how to gather and store herbs for home use, how to prepare teas and several simple home remedies, herbal first aid and the use of wild foods as dietary supplements. The main purpose of the walks, however, apart from the obvious pleasures of just being outside, is to introduce people to the diversity of plant and animal life right in our own backyard. These walks should be of interest to cooks, campers, hikers, gardeners and teachers.
"Herbs have been out of the U.S. pharmacopeia since the '30s," Kaufer said. "Up to that time, they were widely used. They were prescribed by doctors, and pharmacists knew how to prepare them. In fact, yerba santa was one of the last plants to come out of the pharmacopeia--it was still being prescribed into the '30s for asthma and bronchitis. What happened is that medicine went more into drug therapy, and drug companies are very powerful entities, and they can't make as much money off yerba santa and sage as they can off the synthetic powders they make."
A visit to any health food store shows that herbs are making a comeback. People are using St. John's wort, echinacea and ginseng like crazy and paying top dollar as well.
Although Kaufer may be up for the occasional future adventure, the walks are being curtailed. Part of the problem, he said, is the Adventure Pass, a day-use fee charged by the national forest.
"You can't really gather plants in the forest unless you have a botanical collecting permit, which you have to get from the Forest Service, and you also have to have an Adventure Pass to park your car," Kaufer said. "I've led these walks all around the Ojai Valley, but the last few years it's been limited because I don't want to hassle with the Adventure Pass."
Although he earned a degree in biology while part of a premed program at UC Santa Cruz, Kaufer is pretty much a self-taught herbalist.
"I got started about 30 years ago," he said. "I picked up an Indian who was hitchhiking. He invited me back to the reservation, where I ended up staying for a week. I had a cold, and an old man brought me some tea. That was the first time I ever heard of drinking tea for a cold, but it cured my cold and it made me curious and started a lifelong study on my part."
Herb walk with Lanny Kaufer, noon Saturday at Santa Ana Canyon in Oak View. COST: $10 general, $8 for seniors and students, free for those under 12 with an adult. CALL: Center for Earth Concerns at 649-3535 for directions and more information.
Bill Locey can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.